A few months ago, I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing legendary, socially-conscious rockers, Anti-Flag. The Pittsburgh, PA-based band was making its way through New York City to perform a meet-n-greet and acoustic set at Looney Tunes Records in Long Island.
The following evening, they would play a full-fledged concert at Mercury Lounge in the East Village.
I remember distinctly the first time I’d heard of Anti-Flag. It was 2010, and I was in Montevideo, Uruguay. They had already been around for a good 20+ years, but I was still a little new to this punk rock thing, having dipped my toe into the punk rock waters later in life.
Even then, I had been more focused on unknown punk bands and fans in far-flung locales around the world, like South America, Europe, Cuba, and later Asia and Russia. At the time, I was working on a documentary entitled “Punktology: The Worldwide Philosophy of Punk,” and my travels abroad talking to punk fans and bands around the world would theoretically be the backdrop of the doc.
On this particular day, however, I was doing what I loved most in the world, traveling. I was also slightly depressed because I’d gone and gotten myself robbed by a fake taxi driver in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I not only lost a camera, laptop, cash, and passport but three weeks ‘ worth of hard-to-get footage filming punk, ska, and reggae bands in Argentina and neighboring Chile.
The fake driver (but very genuine thief) took advantage of my obvious gringo-ness and inability to find a legitimate taxi in a pouring rainstorm like only South America can have.
Through a series of dumb decisions on my part, he ended up driving away with said belongings as I futilely chased him down the street. Sadly, this only caused an all too familiar, and I suspect a highly entertaining scene for local Porteños.
My material possessions would all be covered by my insurance eventually. Still, the three-weeks-worth of interviews, concert, and rehearsal footage from legendary bands like “Dos Minutos” and other Chilean and Argentine bands were gone forever.
My fledgling documentary project was still-born. I arranged for an emergency passport from the US embassy and, three days later, I finally made the boat ride over to Montevideo, Uruguay (my original target destination when robbed).
There, after a short time grieving my “bad luck”, I stubbornly purchased the cheapest, small video camera I could find in the country to try to piece together and salvage something from the remainder of the trip. These were the days well before 4k iPhone footage made filmmakers out of virtually anyone.
But, perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something, and it was for the best? I considered the long, open-ended commitment a documentary entailed.
Punk documentaries are a dime a dozen, and they rarely even pay for themselves much less generate profit. Still, I had stories to tell from a punk rock POV, and I wanted to share them (yes, this blog existed way back then and I had time to contribute, so have fun digging back but beware, we are due for a re-design, big time…. it’s coming).
This was all clanging around my head, as I was lounging by the boardwalk of Montevideo’s beach in the hot mid-summer (their mid-summer at least) South American sun.
As I lay on the sea wall contemplating my next move, I began day-dreaming about producing a new and raw kind of travel show. At least it was the first time I consciously remember day-dreaming of creating a travel themed TV show.
That’s around the time when I glanced down and saw an Anti-flag graffiti etched onto the sidewalk. “Anti-Flag,” and thought. “What a great name for a band?”
Little did I know then, that almost 10 years later, I’d be interviewing the guys from this very band for the actual travel TV show I’d be producing called “Raw Travel.”
Talk about an intersection of dreams?
Things had come full circle. A negative (robbery) turned into a positive (a tv show) and a future meeting with a band (Anti-Flag) I’d later come to admire, but at the time was not familiar.
A fuzzy, rough idea for a travel show, I first day-dreamed about that very day in Montevideo is now a reality. And a band I had first heard of, almost at that very same moment, was scheduled for an interview for that very same show. This is what went clanging through my head almost 10 years later.
After that fateful day in Montevideo in 2010, I’d come to know Anti-Flag’s music better through some buddies I’d then yet to meet, “Tarakany” (Cockroach) from Moscow, Russia.
On yet another journey, nine months or so later, this time to Moscow, I interviewed the guys from Tarakany for this very same blog. I finally got around to getting through all of Tarakany’s extensive discography they had gifted me with.
I was so impressed with them, that two years or so later, I would eventually sign Tarakany to a small boutique digital record label I would begin from scratch called Punk Outlaw Records. I agreed to help them put together a new, English language release entitled “Russian Democrazy.”
Anti-Flag band member Chris Barker or Chris #2 performed on a couple of songs from “Russian Democrazy,” adding a little US star power and credibility to the mix.
Russian superstar Luanna and British punk-folk singer Frank Turner also participated on select tracks. All of these were courtesy of Dima, lead singer of Tarakany.
Now Anti-Flag was front and center on my radar. Still, I didn’t fall head over hills in love immediately. It was more like a really, really strong like. Love would come just a tad later.
You see, much like Tarakany, it took me an even longer time to get through AF’s full body of work. Anti-Flag has been kicking out the tunes since the late ‘80s. But listen to their early stuff! I swear some of those songs, hold up as well today, if not better than when they were first unleashed.
But thus, began a not-so-slow-but-very-steady developing love affair with Anti-Flag. A few songs here and there downloaded, then eventually, bored with my roster, I would dig deeper in no particular order. But the deeper I dug, the more I fell in love.
The raw anger, cleverness, outrage, and political power of the lyrics combined with catchy but usually fast melodies, reminded me a little of another band I’d met in my journey when living abroad in Colombia, South America… Los Suziox (The Dirty).
I loved how Los Suziox melodically sang truth to power in a way that needed only basic translation, from Spanish to English.
As a North American, with Anti-flag, I could easily relate to their angry, edgy, angsty, and almost spiritual lyrics railing against corruption, unjust wars, violence, racism, mindless consumerism, and the myth of the so-called “American dream.” This was powerful political stuff in a powerful political age. Finally… intelligent but angry lyrics that matched the passion of punk rock.
Perhaps with a name like Ant-Flag, I should not have been surprised at these themes. But the melodies were fierce and powerful vessels for such intelligent, biting and angry prose. In fact, the tunes were precisely how I craved my punk music; musical and melodic, but fast, hard, and hooky with a socially conscious mantra that could be repeated over and over. Easily digestible, yet somehow exclusive.
While you get the feeling almost all are welcomed, you won’t find many dim-witted, dumbasses at an AF show.
These guys aren’t just yelling, they have an important message wrapped in actual music. They are real musicians with something… actually many… urgent, brave and essential things to say. And over the years, they’ve cultivated an audience that has somehow, still remained young, while not selling out their older fans.
Then 2016 happened. The US suddenly found itself in a dystopian dark comedy when Donald J. Trump, the con-man, reality show twitter troll was unbelievably elected president.
You think Anti-flag had something to say during Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and the Obama years? Now we all had something to say… and fear.
But these dark times were made for Anti-Flag, or perhaps I should say Anti-Flag was made for these dark times.
When I traipsed by train out from Manhattan to West Babylon, Long Island, to see them perform their acoustic set at Looney Tunes Records last fall, I didn’t know what to expect.
I had just downloaded “American Reckoning,” the band’s 2018 acoustic release, and again, fell head over hills in love with some of the songs.
When Chris Barker (Chris #2) & Justin Sane hit the stage at Looney Tunes for a crowd of a few dozen fans, I was expectant. You could actually feel the love and respect in that room, and it flowed both ways (fan to artists and artists to fan) and even all around the room. Mutual respect to such a degree that it was actually palpable.
Later during a Q&A, I thought to myself, how much these mostly young, mostly alternative living, mostly hopeful and definitely beautiful souls in the audience needed and wanted Anti-Flag in their lives, especially right now. But these were no “Johnny-come-lately” bandwagon, “Trump sucks” fans. They were tried and true and Anti-Flag fans to the core. I could just tell.
I thought about how I also needed Ant-Flag right now. I wasn’t so angry in 2010, but maybe I should have been. By 2019, I was ready to explode.
When a young lady asked Justin and Chris about how the election of Donald J. Trump had impacted their songs, I could hear Justin as he became almost statesmanlike in his response.
He said he something to the effect (not a direct quote), that he thought that while times were challenging indeed, that we, as a nation, had been through dark times before, and we’d survive this too if we just stick together and keep the faith.
Simple advice, we’d all heard before but I felt better just hearing this from a guy on the front lines who’s seen a lot of stuff through the unique lens of punk rock much longer than myself. I believed Justin, I didn’t necessarily believe it when I’d heard this before.
That’s when Anti-Flag’s longevity came into more focus for me. The band in some form or another has been around since the late ’80s, long before I was into punk rock, or as I like to say, long before I realized I was into punk rock. That’s a long time for a punk band or any band.
Perhaps the secret to their longevity isn’t just raw talent, its mission of message. They’ve been fighting for numerous progressive causes, putting up with ignorant fellow countrymen (and women) calling them unpatriotic, while they dutifully ignored them. Choosing instead to crank out incredibly socially conscious tunes at a hell of a pace while spreading their punk rock message. “Mission of Message” has kept me doing the “impossible” for almost 10 years, producing an internationally syndicated travel show out of my apartment. The #1 most-watched authentic travel show in the USA at that (and still growing as of 2019).
However, unlike me, AF doesn’t look any worse for the wear. When I met them they looked healthy, happy, and most importantly, purposeful. Never underestimate the power of purpose my friends.
The next evening, I prepared for the pre-concert interview at the Mercury Lounge in the Lower East Side of NYC. I thought about how the guys didn’t look or sound like an old, over-the-hill punk band living off the fruits of old glory struggling with addiction or claiming how “hungover” they were, like when I’d interviewed Fat Mike from NOFX so many years ago. Fat Mike is famous for his music and his antics and lack of respect for his own body. He’s destroying himself in public and it’s part of his schtick by now.
The guys from AF were sober, serious, thoughtful, intelligent and down to earth. And they are to me as relevant as ever, maybe more so.
I’m somewhat aware of some semblance of how difficult it must be to make it as independent musicians for so many years, having been an independent TV producer for 20+ years myself. But punk music for 30+ years, is a feat few on this planet have truly known and survived to tell the tale, much less thrive to tell the tale, like AF has.
Anti-Flag’s Pat Thetic (drums) and Justin Case (vocals/guitar) have been carrying the Anti-Flag since the very beginning when they formed the band. Chris Head (Bass) and Chris Barker (Chris #2), joined up 20+ years ago, so it’s not like they don’t know of what they have lived or write and perform either.
For the past 30 years, Anti-Flag has been a huge inspiration to music fans around the world. Fans who believe there is a better way for humans to live. A better, more equitable society would benefit us all, not just the very poor, all of us, even the very rich. We are a chain only as strong as our weakest links, and we have too many weak links.
Humanity’s very survival is now at stake and we elected a carnival barker to run the free world. We need Anti-Flag.
But even before President Bonespur, AF has been speaking truth to the most significant economic power the world has ever known in a way that electrifies and gets inside your soul.
Some people will say, “you are what you eat,” and since becoming a “mostly meatless” pseudo-vegetarian a few years ago, I tend to agree.
But I’d like to take it further and say, “you are what you listen to.” I’ve been listening to Anti-Flag intently and really heavily just for the last three to four years. It’s been a musical journey that has dovetailed very nicely into the increased awareness and mind-expanding, broad world-view I’ve also witnessed while traveling the world and 70+ countries.
When I interviewed Justin & Pat before Anti-Flag’s show at the Mercury Lounge, I tried my best to ask thought-provoking, unique questions that maybe, hopefully, they hadn’t heard a hundred times before. I don’t know if I was successful in avoiding the cliche and trite, but I did feel a connection with these fellas about our world-view and how we collectively viewed life in the USA. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I think it’s more than that.
I believe the most patriotic thing people can do is to question the USA’s place in the world and how we treat our citizenry and others. I think we have a responsibility, as the world’s leading economy, to lead by moral example. We are special because we are lucky to have had brave people who stood up when the time was right to stand up and save not only our country but freedom of humankind itself. Who will stand up for freedom and light over darkness and greed today?
Money and economic power are not what makes a nation great, but instead, people with an ethical and principled desire to do the right thing in a world that increasingly is becoming more complicated and confusing.
I’ve noticed Trump Twitter Trolls always throw a flag emoji on their profile and that Trump himself loves to hug the flag. Yet “President Bonespur” never seemed to serve anyone but himself. He called John McCain, an actual war hero, a “disgrace.” “Disgrace,” such an old-fogie word from such an old fogie, incompetent, hypocritical fart who has never had a clue what it’s like to scrap, scratch and claw for a living.
I don’t get how anyone could support such a morally vacuous human as a leader of our once-great nation. It will never be great again with such an empty vessel at the helm (I met Trump once years ago, I was underwhelmed then and am really unimpressed now).
It occurred to me as I wrapped my interview with Justin and Pat and went upstairs to set up to film the rocking, decidedly non-acoustic set at the Mercury Lounge, that Anti-Flag might be the most patriotic group of people I’ve ever met.
I don’t know how well they do financially, but if they’re not getting fabulously wealthy, they don’t seem to be hurting either (Pat owns a restaurant in Pittsburgh, I hope to check out my next time there). They gifted me with an AF shirt, I hope to get permission to wear on the show, so they’re not THAT hard up for merch money haha.
But most importantly, I do see them living a dream of speaking their mind, expressing themselves through a stellar musical body of work, and caring about the fans and people who seem to care so much about them.
Before I left the Mercury Lounge to hit the streets of NYC and make my way home on that surreal Halloween night in 2019, camera and tripod in tow, I went down below to the green room to shake the dual Chris’s hands and congratulate them on a great show.
On the way out the door, I saw Justin and Pat earnestly talking some young fans long after the vast majority of folks had hit the exits.
It’s the same thing I witnessed at Looney Toons the evening before. Chris #2 and Justin greeted fans after the set, and you could see the genuine look of love, concern, and appreciation in their eyes as they took the time to let every one of their fans know how important they were.
Love, connection and respect, are what I witnessed, not between band-member and fan but human to human. I’ll repeat it, I believe the members of Anti-Flag may be the most caring and patriotic people I’ve ever met. They are a band made for these times, and we need them now, more than ever.
NOTE: My interview and the Raw Travel TV segment on Anti-Flag on Raw Travel will be out sometime during Season 8 (2020-21). I’ll post more excerpts here then, so stay tuned. Also, Andres Ocampo, lead singer of the Colombian band Los Suziox was denied entry to the USA to visit his sick mother, despite having a valid visa. You can support him at Justice For Andres.
And finally, Anti-Flag has a kick-ass new release out called “20/20 Vision”, and it does NOT disappoint. Look for my post on that coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy their videos “It Went Off Like a Bomb” and “The Disease” from two of my favorite tracks of the release.